The Little Book of Skin Care

date Mar 19, 2019
authors Charlotte Cho
reading time 23 mins


10 step process

  1. Makeup remover and oil cleanser
  2. Water based cleanser
  3. Exfoliator
  4. Toner
  5. Essence
  6. Serum
  7. Sheet mask
  8. Eye cream
  9. Moisturizer
  10. Sun screen


  • Hyluronic Acid
  • Glycerin
  • Honey
  • Ceramides
  • Urea
  • glycolic acid
  • lactic acid
  • Kojic acids
  • Niacinamide
  • salicylic acid *
  • Benzoyl Peroxide *
  • Mandelic Acid
  • Vitamin A (Retinol) *
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Caffeine
  • Red Raspberry Extract
  • Zinc oxide
  • Titanium Dioxide
  • Genseng
  • Snail secretion filtrate
  • Green tea
  • Tea tree oil

* Not safe for pregnancy!

Korea and skincare

Why skin care?

But in Korea, taking good care of your skin is something to be enjoyed; it isn’t just beauty or vanity, but an investment in your well-being.

Korea’s obsession with skin care

I was now living in a country where skin care was not just about the products on your bathroom shelf, but a mindset that permeates your lifestyle, from the food you eat to the clothes you wear.

Korean culture and growing up

My mom frequently lectured Michelle and me about the importance of staying out of the sun, moisturizing, and properly cleansing our faces. My older sister was much more into Korean culture than I was (she loved her Kpop boy bands) and followed dutifully, but as the middle child, I went to great lengths to do the opposite.

Bluntness of Asian families

Asian families tend to be very blunt and won’t think twice about telling you you’re getting fat or that you need to get a boyfriend, so rather than being offended by it, I was used to this well-intentioned rudeness, and it got me thinking about my skin.

Part of the culture

it didn’t take me long to realize that I was living in a place where skin care was more than skin deep: It was a part of the culture in Korea.

Korean Spas

Instead, jimjilbangs are often multigenerational gathering spots where people go to get clean and chill out with their mothers, daughters, sisters, fathers, sons, brothers, cousins, friends, and even significant others.

Korean vs the world in skin cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common cancer, accounting for nearly half of cancers in the United States. But in sun-vigilant Korea, skin cancer doesn’t even make the list of the ten most common cancers! Coincidence? Methinks not.


This legendary promenade is lined with more beauty shops than you ever imagined could be possible. Stand in the middle of an intersection and you’ll see beauty stores every which way you turn. Outside the stores, brand ambassadors pass out samples to entice you in, and once you’re in, they’re ready to handle your beauty questions in multiple languages, too!

Korean cosmetic companies

The largest cosmetic company in Korea is Amore-Pacific, and it has got a ton of brands under its belt, such as Innisfree, Etude House, Laneige, IOPE, and Sulwhasoo. The next largest cosmetic company is LG Household & Health Care (LG H&H), and it’s the maker of Su:m37, O HUI, The Faceshop, Belif, and Beyond.


Products based on age and gender

Our brains are filled with marketing mumbo jumbo that’s a potent combo of myth and misconception. It’s no wonder that people still use skin products based on age and gender, or believe that drinking water will give your dry skin relief, because that’s what we’ve been told for generations.

Skin care is only for elderlies

also had the mentality that skin care was for old people, and I still had decades before I had to worry about wrinkles.

Skin care according to age is wrong!

In Western cultures, we’re taught to buy skin-care products according to how old, or “mature,” our skin is, but that’s an oversimplification. Instead of just looking at your age, you should analyze your skin and determine what conditions need to be treated.

Following your best friend’s routine

Remember when I told you that you shouldn’t just assume that what your two best friends are using will suit you? No matter how much they rave about a product, it just might not be right for you. Your skin is uniquely yours.

Men can also use skincare!

Boys, your only option is not a male skin-care line. I smile when a girlfriend tells me that her boyfriend uses her skin-care products. Dave and I frequently use the same products, and it’s completely fine because, again, guys should also be purchasing.

Skin and health

Skin and the largest organ in our body!

If you’re a little doubtful, let me assure you: Yes, you can be excited about skin. It’s only the largest organ of your body.

Teaching kids about skin care

When we’re kids, we’re taught proper hygiene, from brushing our teeth before we go to bed to washing our hands after using the bathroom. In Korea, kids are taught about skin care as well. Long before they even have to think about adolescent acne, they’re taught about everything from exfoliating and moisturizing to a generous application of SPF.

Get to the root of the problem

Koreans tend to focus on skin-care products that get at the root of conditions and treat problems before they start. Relying wholly on makeup not only looks unnatural, but it’s also a temporary fix to a long-lasting issue.

Why start early?

When you’re young and healthy, that’s when it’s easiest and most beneficial to keep your body in a continuous healthy state, and your skin is no different. You know what they say: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks—and the same seems to apply to skin care. If you start good habits now, they’ll be second nature.

Dewy skin first!

Dewy, firm skin is the most sought-after beauty trait in South Korea. While Western society may tend to focus more on achieving a matte complexion, Korean women prep and prime their skin so that they are luminous and glowing. Dewy is the opposite of oily, though—it’s a fresh look, not a greasy one.

Brightening vs whitening

A lot of Korean skin-care products are labeled “whitening,” but this actually means “brightening.” Bright skin looks like it’s lit from within, and South Koreans love to enhance brightness with a little makeup hack.

Trial and error process

skin care is very much a trial-and-error process, and there really isn’t a way to get it right the first time, nor can you just copy what someone else does and expect to see the same results.

Changes over longterm span

There’s no one single trick that will transform your skin overnight; instead, the condition of your skin is determined by how you treat it, day in and day out, over the span of months and years. That said, we’re all looking for a bit of instant gratification, so if you want your face to look better ASAP, change the way you wash it.

Skincare is non-evasive

I think it’s a healthier and better option to invest in and partake in the Korean mindset of skin care. Skin care is noninvasive and less expensive, and clear, healthy skin makes people feel and look better.

Cleansing and Toning

Double cleansing

For many Korean women, a proper cleanse is a double cleanse, which means a first round with an oil-based cleanser, then a second with a water-based one. Now, I know, I know: You’re probably thinking, You’re telling me that not only do I have to wash my face every night, but that I have to do it twice?

Pat dry instead of rubbing

When you’re done, wash the oil off with warm water, then pat your face dry. Let me repeat: pat pat pat instead of an up-and-down scrubbing motion that pulls your skin every which way. You don’t want to vigorously move your face up and down, as this could lead to wrinkles

Foaming is unrelated to effectiveness

Foaming doesn’t increase a cleanser’s effectiveness or provide any extra benefits. Beauty companies just make cleansers foam to give people what they want: bubbles, lots and lots of bubbles.

Skin is slightly acidic

pH ranges from 0 to 14, and this number indicates a substance’s ratio of acidity and alkalinity, with 0 the most acidic, 14 the most alkaline, and 7 neutral. In its healthiest state, your skin is slightly acidic, usually 5.5. If your skin is too acidic, it can be irritated, prone to breakouts, and very oily. If your skin is too alkaline, it can look dull, feel extremely dry.

Tightness is not good

But the truth is that tightness isn’t a sign of skin being clean, but a sign of damage. Cleansers that are too alkaline overdry your skin, stripping it of its essential oils and natural moisture. Not only can this cause dryness and irritation, but it can also make your oil glands try to overcorrect by producing too much oil.

Slight alkaline is required for cleaning skin

On the flip side, a cleanser that is too acidic won’t do much, because you actually need a slight alkalinity to properly dissolve dirt and be effective in cleansing. If you have normal skin, then the pH level of your cleansers isn’t that big of a deal, but it’s definitely something that people with acne-prone or sensitive skin should be aware of.

Function of toners

Advances in skin-care technology mean that fewer companies are making alkaline cleansers. So now toners focus on hydrating and fortifying the barrier to keep skin smooth and protected.

Why alcohol / astringents are bad for skin

I’ve learned to shy away from ones that are astringents, the term for formulas that contain a high percentage of witch hazel or alcohol. If you have oily skin you may actually enjoy the feeling of your skin being degreased, but don’t fall into that trap. Alcohol inhibits the skin’s ability to repair itself and even triggers more inflammation and acne.

Look for hydrating toners

when my Korean friends taught me to be wary of any skin product with a high alcohol content, hydrating toners became my jam, and I haven’t looked back since.

Oil cleanser

Use a gentle oil cleanser to remove your natural sebum. Don’t use harsh exfoliators (with granules) over active breakouts. You’d benefit from anti-inflammatory and antibacterial ingredients such as tea tree oil.


Exfoliating the entire body

Now I use a washcloth to scrub from head to toe in the shower and have learned that exfoliating doesn’t just feel good, but that it’s actually good for you.


Exfoliation gives your body’s natural skin-cell shedding a boost and encourages cell regeneration, which results in a brighter and more even skin tone and smoother skin texture. You can exfoliate daily, weekly, or even just once a month, as it really depends on the condition of your skin.

How exfoliation helps

Removing excess skin cells also helps your moisturizers and other products absorb more easily. Not having to fight through a layer of dead cells, your products can go straight to the epidermis, which ultimately means your skin will retain more moisture.

Mechanical exfoliation

Mechanical exfoliation uses products such as sugar scrubs or brush bristles (such as a Clarisonic) for the face, or Korean moms armed with Italy towels for the body, to physically slough off dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. Mechanical exfoliation is good for normal to combination skin

Exfoliation ingredients

In general, look for ingredients such as sugar, jojoba beads, or oatmeal, as all are fairly gentle on skin. Walnut and apricot scrubs, while popular, have uneven and odd-shaped granules that can have sharp edges and spell bad news for your skin.

Chemical exfoliation

Acids used in chemical exfoliators are categorized as alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) and beta hydroxy acids (BHA). Some common AHAs include glycolic acid and lactic acid, and both can be found in skin-care products in concentrations from 5 to 15 percent. Starting at 12 percent, it’s considered a chemical peel.

salicylic acid

A popular BHA is salicylic acid, which is great for acne-prone and oily skin types because it breaks down oil and clogged pores and is anti-inflammatory and antibacterial. Most salicylic acid skin-care products can be applied and left on throughout the day if they have concentrations of 1 to 2 percent


Moisturize after exfoliation

After you use chemical or mechanical exfoliators, you mustn’t forget to moisturize! Exfoliation weakens your skin’s barrier, and you want to rehydrate and protect with a good moisturizer.

Why hydrate?

Adding hydration to your skin plumps it up and fills in the gaps, which helps reduce the visibility of fine lines. No, this doesn’t mean that you can slap on some lotion and see all your lines and wrinkles magically disappear, but lines will be more apparent on skin that is consistently dehydrated.

Why moisturizer works and not just water

Formulated moisturizers work because they hydrate the skin with ingredients that have smaller molecules to draw moisture to the skin and then retain it once it’s there… while dousing your face with water won’t actually moisturize it, products are actually absorbed better when applied on a damp face.

Moisturize right after showering

I’ve gotten in the habit of applying my skin-care products right when I step out of the shower (before I even blow-dry my hair), and that really enhances the absorption of everything, from my toner to my night cream.

Order of application: lightest to heaviest

There is also an order in which you should apply your skin-care products, starting with the lightest consistency (such as liquid toners) and then moving toward the heaviest (like a rich cream). Applying the heaviest cream first would almost create an oily barrier that would make it harder for the others to penetrate.


Though products may be labeled as ampoules, serums, or boosters, all are generally used the same way and for the same range of purposes. They have a thicker consistency with a more potent concentration of ingredients (think of them as an essence reduction) and are frequently used as spot treatments, such as to target brown spots on your cheeks or fine lines around your mouth.


Moisturizers usually contain humectants, which both prevent the loss of moisture and attract it to the skin, and/or lipids, which improve hydration and make skin smooth. Algae, hyaluronic acid, glycerin, sodium PCA, sorbitol, and propylene glycol are common humectants. As their names would imply, phospholipids and glycosphingolipids are lipids.

Sheet mask

Hydrating sheet masks

Some nights I like to treat my skin to a sheet mask. I also try to pack a sheet mask when I know I’m going to be on a long flight, because the air is so dry on the plane. Hydration is important to keeping skin healthy and beautiful, so it can look good even without makeup.

Using sheet mask

When it comes to getting that dewy glow, I find sheet masks to be the most effective. They work so well because while the sheet rests on your face, it acts like an icebreaker at an awkward party and forces the antioxidants and vitamins to mingle with your skin. With a lot of the skin-care products you put on your face, some of the ingredients will evaporate before they even have the chance to penetrate your epidermis, but a sheet mask helps lock the nutrients in.

Use sheet masks 1/2 per week

Use them in lieu of your regular treatment, after cleansing and before moisturizing, once or twice a week, and in winter, when my skin feels extra tight and dry, I up that to about two to three times.

The extra liquid from sheet masks

Apply the excess essence in the pouch and the mask to your neck, shoulders, and hands. Those essences are good for your skin, so don’t let any go to waste! Take a power nap, read a book, swipe left or right, or simply zone out for about twenty to thirty minutes.

Don’t wash off

When you’re ready, just peel off the mask and discard it. There’s no reason for you to wash off the essence that is left behind, because it is good for your skin! When you look at your skin in the mirror, it should look brighter and slightly plumper from the moisture it just absorbed.

How sheet masks help

Sheet masks are one way to deliver intensive hydrating ingredients to the skin. If you use them consistently two or three times per week, you’ll notice a difference in elasticity and a reduction in fine lines.

Why sheet masks work

Place a sheet mask on your face and then lie back and chill out for twenty minutes. The secret to sheet masks is that the sheet helps keep the product from evaporating, and its prolonged contact with your face forces your skin to absorb more of the nutrients and moisture than if you just applied them via a cream or serum.


Use a sunscreen daily!

You’re more susceptible now to hyperpigmentation and sun damage, so it’s incredibly important to regularly use at least an SPF 30 after you exfoliate. But let’s be honest, you should be using an SPF every day regardless of whether you’ve exfoliated

Why using sunscreen is challenging!

But even if you’re not expecting immediate gratification, sunscreen is a product that will truly test your patience. Its purpose is to protect your skin, not improve it, and I think that’s one of the reasons it’s so hard to keep up with. Use it day in and day out, and you’re not going to look better, just the same.

Sunscreen is not high priority for many people

Sunscreen is the real deal. Not to be dramatic, but it can keep you looking years younger and, when it comes to skin cancer, save your life. Still, though, I’ve met tons of people who don’t think twice about going out of their way to eat organic, or spend money on expensive yoga lessons for their well-being, yet let sun protection fall low on their list of priorities.


It’s best to use a sunscreen that contains both UVA and UVB protection. Look for a sunscreen labeled “broad spectrum protection,” which means it has passed the critical wavelength test to protect from both aging and burning rays.

Sun block vs sun screen

FYI, the FDA no longer allows companies to label their products as “sunblock,” because no lotion can block the sun completely; it can only screen out some of the UV rays. Hence the term sunscreen.

Sunscreen is a chemical reaction

A chemical sunscreen (also known as synthetic sunscreen) filters the radiation by absorbing it and then transforming it into heat energy. Because it’s a chemical process, you should give it about fifteen minutes after application for it to soak in and work effectively.


First things first: SPF stands for “sun protection factor,” and it measures how effective the sunscreen is at blocking UVB rays.

SPF 50+++

As you can see, despite the jump in sun protection factor from the number 15 to 50, there’s a plateau in the amount of protection that you’re getting. That’s why the FDA created tighter regulations around SPF labeling. You can no longer buy products that say SPF 100

Sunscreens cannot be waterproof

Wrong. Pay no heed to any “waterproof” or “sweat-proof” claims on products. In fact, the FDA no longer allows companies to market sunscreens with these words, because they’re simply misleading.

Every 2 to 3 hours

The common rule of thumb is that you should reapply your sunscreen every two to three hours. If you’re sweating, reapply even more often than that. Swimming? It’s a good idea to reapply every time you come out of the water.

Only 10 minutes or overcast or snowy day?

Even on a ten-minute walk around the block with your pup, your face is being attacked and damaged by the sun’s rays. Also, don’t let an overcast day fool you. The majority of UVA and UVB rays can still penetrate clouds. Even on a snowy day, 80 percent of the rays can reflect off the snow directly onto you.

Environmental factors are higher

You’re partly right, but not totally. You do inherit your skin type from your parents, but your genes account for only 10 to 20 percent of aging. A mind-blowing 80 to 90 percent of your aging is a result of environmental factors.

Lots of options

Nowadays, there are a lot of lightweight, nongreasy, nonpasty-looking sunscreen options, so keep trying new ones until you find one that you like

Use physical sun screens!

Also, the less you like wearing sunscreen, the more reason to splurge on those sunglasses and hats. Make sure you go for lenses with 100 percent UVA and UVB absorption (and the bigger the frames, the better) and that your hats have a decent brim that actually shades your face.

Melanin and mutations

When UV rays attack your skin, your body tries to protect itself from the damage by producing melanin, the pigment that causes your skin to tan. Unfortunately this whole process causes cell mutations and produces free radicals.

Mineral sunscreen

Mineral sunscreens are great for kids. Formulated with zinc or titanium oxide, they’re less likely to irritate sensitive skin.

Where to apply sunscreen other than face

Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to your lips, hands, chest, ears, neck, and shoulders. You ever wonder why these areas are the most telltale signs of a person’s age? Because they’re often neglected in the skin-care process

Tiny amounts of time

You need to properly cleanse, exfoliate, treat, moisturize, and protect your skin, and believe it or not, all of this should take only five to ten minutes in the morning and another five to ten at night.

Eye cream

To apply eye cream, you want to use your pinkie to gently tap the product around the entire orbital bone, and don’t get too close to the waterlines of your eyes or you can irritate them

Other tips

Throw after 1 year of opening

While every product you use will differ (especially if it’s in jar packaging vs. pump), my personal rule is that skin-care products should be thrown out within one year after they’ve been open. Attention, hoarders: Products that have not been opened will be stable for two to three years.

Airplane travels

combat low humidity in airplanes is regularly spritzing with a facial mist that contains humectants, which will help keep you hydrated. Keep in mind that facial sprays that are just water will actually dehydrate your skin even more.

Eating well

Your skin will mirror what you eat. Eating a balanced diet is the optimal way to keep your body healthy, and it will also be reflected on the outside. So eat less of those things that end in -os (Cheetos, Doritos, Haribos) and more yogurts, greens, fish, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein.

No makeup-makeup look

BB Cream (Blemish Balm cream)

Korean cosmetic companies took the original concept of BB cream and evolved it into something that would cover up imperfections, but also prep and moisturize while providing anti-aging and brightening properties and sun protection.

CC Cream (Color corrective cream)

The CC cream (or color correcting cream), offers the same benefits as the BB such as anti-aging properties, hydration, SPF, and coverage, but goes on a little more sheer, is less heavy in consistency, and has a more natural look.


It just means that you use different products and different techniques, and that your final look doesn’t come with a big, blinking arrow that says MAKEUP. Subtle is the name of the game.

Matte look vs fresh and dewy look

In Korean beauty culture, powder has largely become a thing of the past. Unless they’re extremely oily and need a powder to absorb some of the sebum, most Korean women don’t bother with it. A heavy, matte look is the antithesis of the fresh and dewy look we’re going for